Amateur divers chart Keys shipwreck

Keys wrecks 
Photo Matthew Lawrence

By Kevin Wadlow - Keys Net

A moray eel and Goliath grouper swam amid a team of volunteer divers charting shipwreck remains Tuesday near the Elbow reef off Key Largo.

"On a regular dive trip, that would be the highlight," Paul Washington, a master scuba instructor, said. "We were going, 'Get out of the way so we can get back to work!'"

The crew of four divers from the National Association of Black Scuba Divers joined two National Marine Sanctuaries staffers to spend three days underwater this week documenting shipwreck remains best known locally as Mike's Wreck.

"Our mission is to get the story," diver Jay Haigler said. "It's like putting pieces of a puzzle together. The more pieces you get, the clearer the picture becomes."

The four divers, all from the Washington, D.C., area, earned their spots on the survey team. Each has hundreds of logged dives and advanced certifications, including the arduous NOAA Scientific Diver course and underwater archaeology training.

"This is a lot more than looking around and having a good time," said Brenda Altmeier, maritime heritage coordinator for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Windy weather made conditions less than ideal as divers each used three to four tanks a day. Since the wreck lies in 25 feet of water, said lead investigator Matthew Lawrence, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary maritime archaeologist, a single tank could last two hours.

"For the sanctuary, this is a fantastic deal," Lawrence said.

In return for rooms at host Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort, meals and boat trips, the program receives "multiple days of diving with people who know how to measure and draw what they see, then make a detailed scale drawing of the site."

Kamau Sadiki, a hydropower engineering expert most days, said, "There are about 2,000 shipwrecks in the sanctuary here. There's no way for [staff] to do what they need."

"We bring the skills," Sadiki said. "They have the wrecks and the boats."

"As a retired elementary school teacher, these are great experiences for me," said Ernie Franklin, who uses scuba expeditions with NABSD's Diving with Purpose program to make history and science come alive for students.

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